“Cuir tús leis an chomhrá i nGaeilge”, that is the statement on one of the large posters I have just designed to go up around Letterkenny, “Start the conversation in Irish”. Before Christmas I began in my new role as Comhordaitheoir Pleanála Teanga or Irish Language Development Coordinator for Letterkenny. Apart from the fact that I have a deep love for the Irish language I am also energised by the fact that this is very much a community development job. It is all about building relationships, engaging with people young and old, with families and with the business community.
Yesterday however was not one of the better days in the job. It was unbelievably quiet. I sent out emails, I posted information on Facebook and Twitter about courses and events we have coming up – and none of it generated any response at all! There was certainly no tús getting put to any comhrá and so the day was long and frustrating and felt unsatisfying. In contrast today my phone and laptop have outdone themselves pinging with updates and messages. I’ve had good conversations, explored exciting possibilities for the months ahead and the day has flown in.
We all need ‘comhrá’, conversation, connection. It is harder these days and many feel isolated. It seems even more important to me then that we would actively seek out and create opportunities for conversation. So I was delighted when Bishop Alan McGuckian phoned to congratulate me on the new job and, in the course of the conversation, agreed to be involved in a book club during Lent. In 2009 Bishop Alan translated into Irish the book “Story of a Pilgrim: Ignatius Loyola in his own words”. It is a beautiful wee book, well crafted and easy to read. I am confident that it will create the opportunity for an engaging book club. I am always challenged by the way Ignatius learned so much through paying attention to his own experience. God used the deepest desires of his heart to teach and shape Ignatius.
Now some may wonder what I am doing, inviting a Bishop to run a book club and talk about a saint. They may be quick to remind me that I’m not working for the diocese now. True, I’m not, but I believe that if we consider ourselves to be Irish speakers then we need to develop the capacity to speak about whatever is deepest within us. For some this will be faith, for others it may be a passion for sport or a love of travel. Whatever it is, I believe we need opportunities to talk about our passion.
What makes you tick? What is that spark of energy at the core of you? Can you put it into words? Or do you just know what it is when you encounter it? I am currently involved in another wonderful online series with Donal Dorr organised by Nóirín Lynch in the Margaret Aylward Centre for Faith and Dialogue. Donal makes fabulous use of poetry and I have found that so many of the poems he uses to enrich his input speak right to the core of me. It is that profound sense of “Yes, this is who we are, this is what matters.” I have the same feeling when I am out walking on the hills and I return nurtured and strengthened.
I think we are all finding this lockdown harder that those which came before. We are tired and frustrated – up here in Donegal we would say we are ‘scunnered’ and it sums it up well. Perhaps then, as we begin to think about Lent, we could consider what would nurture us heart and soul. Maybe this Lent is not the time for giving up but for taking up, whether that is a book of poetry or a book of prayer, a daily time of quiet and / or a commitment to phone our loved ones for a chat, a walk in nature watching spring unfurl or sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of tea in hand. Let us touch into what gives us joy, what reminds us who we are – and find strength in God’s gentle presence.